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The Twelve Days of Christmas December 25 - January 5

The 12 days of Christmas is the period that in Christian theology marks the span between the birth of Christ and the coming of the Magi, the three wise men. It begins on December 25 (Christmas) and runs through January 6 (the Epiphany, sometimes also called Three Kings' Day).

The First Day of Christmas

December 25th

The wait of Advent is over on Christmas day as we celebrate the light. Many of us will be gathering with family and friends for a day filled with food and community. Still, there are others who might be spending this day alone. However you spend this day, may the story of Christmas create space for rejoicing, even if the light might seem dim in this season of life.

The Second Day of Christmas

December 26th

After a day marking the birth of Jesus, the Christmas season briefly shifts its focus to what it means to live (and die) for Christ. The three feast days that follow Christmas Day recognize three types of martyrs: the willing and executed (Stephen), the willing and not executed (John), and the unwilling and executed (Holy Innocents).

December 26 is the feast day of St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and is a day to remember the sacrifices we make for what we believe in. It’s also Boxing Day in many countries around the world, a tradition that originated in Europe in the Middle Ages through almsgiving (via a box in the sanctuary). In 19th century England, the tradition expanded to include employees, who would often receive boxes of money or gifts in gratitude for their service throughout the year. (The beginning of the Christmas bonus, perhaps?) With all of these traditions in mind, this is a great day to focus on end-of-year giving to those in need.

The Third Day of Christmas

December 27th

The Feast of St. John the Evangelist falls on December 27 and invites us into a day of service as we remember what we have come to declare as good news and seek to spread that light to others.

The Fourth Day of Christmas

December 28th

Set apart from the previous three days, the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents is more somber in tone as we remember the innocent slain by King Herod in his attempts to find the Christ child—a story retold in the lesser-known Christmas song, “Coventry Carol.” In the midst of our feasting and celebration, the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents offers an opportunity to remember the innocent and marginalized who still live in the shadows and calls us to action as we bring their stories into the light.

The Fifth Day of Christmas

December 29th

By now, it’s likely that many friends are returning home after family festivities. However, since Christmas lasts twelve days, we know it’s far from over! Practice hospitality by bringing your community together for a gathering filled with Christmas cheer without the pressure that Christmas Day brings.

The Sixth Day of Christmas

December 30th

With New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day just around the corner it won’t be long before the kids have to go back to school and you have to get back to work (unless you’ve gone back already). Set aside this day to really savor your favorite parts of the season—warmth, wonder, togetherness—and make some cookies or have a holiday movie marathon while you’re at it. (Pajamas suggested.)

The Seventh Day of Christmas

December 31st

New Year’s Eve is more often associated with parties and countdowns, but it’s also a great day to reflect on the year that has passed, from sorrows to celebrations and everything in between. I like to make this time of reflection a special outing, and it has become a favorite ritual over the years. You can either do this alone through journaling or with family and friends by recounting the year month by month as you recall what happened in each person’s life.

The Eighth Day of Christmas

January 1st

In the Christian church, New Year’s Day is also the Feast of the Holy Name, commemorating the day Jesus was named in the temple. To name is to imbue with meaning, and this feast day and the holiday that accompanies it invites us to also name our hopes and desires for the year to come. My favorite way to do this is to have a word for the year. Many people choose a word themselves, which is a great way to name and set your intentions.

The Ninth Day of Christmas

January 2nd

“Always we begin again,” St. Benedict so wisely states in his Rule. The arrival of Christ in human form is a new beginning, and each year offers a new beginning too. Traditionally, we’re prompted to set New Year’s Resolutions, but what if instead we committed to New Year Renewals, returning again to what we know brings us light and life? Led by your word for the year and inspired by the Incarnation, consider which commitments and practices you would like to renew in the new year, and invite those around you to do the same.

The Tenth Day of Christmas

January 3rd

While everyone might be heading back to their everyday routines by now, the Christmas season is still not over, instead inviting us to celebrate even in the midst of the most ordinary of days. One way to do this is to participate in something that brings you delight. Enthusiasm, after all, comes from entheos, which means “in God,” and so to celebrate our enthusiasm and delights is to name the ways God is in and with each one of us.

The Eleventh Day of Christmas

January 4th

The Christmas season is filled with sounds—the singing of carols, the brightness of laughter, the ripping open of presents, the crackling of the fire—and yet the softest sound of all provides the greatest impact: the Incarnation, the Divine breaking into the world through the birth of Jesus in the most unexpected of places. As the twelve days of Christmas nears its end, set aside time to not only listen to your favorite holiday album or sounds of the season—listen to your life, to your community, and to the world. Where is the Incarnation happening now, in this moment? Where is the Divine breaking into the world in the most unexpected places? It is always there that you will find Christ, and, consequently, Life.

The Twelfth Day of Christmas

January 5th

In many ancient traditions, the day began at sundown, and so while the Feast of Epiphany is celebrated on January 6, it actually begins on January 5, or the “twelfth night” of Christmas, as it was celebrated in Medieval times. As the twelve days of the Christmas season come to a close, we remember the three wise men, true Seekers of the Sacred who, unlike many others during that time, knew the Divine when they saw it. A capstone celebration, the twelfth day of Christmas is the perfect time to gather together for one last hurrah through traditions both old and new: blessing the house by chalking the door, enjoying King Cake in honor of the wise men, and sharing our hopes for the year with others—the stars that will guide us and the light that we carry into the season to come.